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Christmas and New Year are often regarded as tough times for families - folklore (or is it folklaw?) has it that January is busy for divorce petitions, but I would prefer to go with something more cheery - not that divorce couldn't ever be cheery because, after all, for some it could be the best thing that ever happened and better than the alternative.
Anyway; whilst trying to think of something more ‘cheery' I was struck by the furore of the potential threat posed by Facebook until I realised it didn't refer to the easy waste of time slickly provided by social networking, but the very real threat of unprepared adopted youngsters being contacted via Facebook by natural parents. Lives can be thrown into turmoil when natural parents undermine the careful preparation of adopted youngsters for possible contact with birth families. According to reports there are growing numbers of contacts made through this medium, sometimes by natural parents who were found to be ‘unsuitable' owing to neglect and even cruelty. Important to note that it isn't the obvious changes brought by technology that we should be wary of, it is the linked possibilities that we don't immediately see that are difficult to legislate for - social networking has turned out to be something of a Pandora's box. We already are in the stage of regret. When you kiss frogs, you don't always find a prince.
I see Sir Paul Coleridge has launched a campaign to promote marriage and reverse the "appalling and costly impact of family breakdown". Good luck to him. Seriously. Perhaps we should work harder on our relationships - as one character in the film ‘Parenthood' says, you need a licence to go fishing but anyone can be a parent - and I take that to mean that anyone can set up in a relationship and found a family. I paraphrase the film script, but you get the idea. Television, mass media, celebrity lifestyles and rampant consumerism have all added to the pressure to look to the perfection of one's relationships. When there is sign of failure then we seek after perfection elsewhere rather than mend what we have - so he may have a point. I am not sure, though, that many will listen - it sounds so good it is almost sure to be good for others rather than for ourselves.
Today's Times (Monday 9 January 2012) notes in a disappointingly small column that legal cuts will affect the chances of 4,000 children who have parents estranged from each other seeing one of the parents regularly, and not losing contact with them in the aftermath of parental estrangement. Most affected parents are the fathers rather than mothers (probably to be expected, given the residence issue) and the reason for the risk of loss of contact with children is the reduction in legal aid. Some parents will consider taking a case themselves because they will not qualify for legal aid under the new scheme, and many parents will simply give up the fight. In these situations, children lose out, and there is no calculation of the loss of best welfare. Only where there is domestic violence will legal aid be available in private disputes - one wonders if claims of domestic violence will rise as a result. Mediation may be the answer, and may be preferable in the ideal world. One doubts that mediation can resolve very difficult and high conflict cases - in which case, of course, the case is not suitable and should receive legal aid where appropriate. I don't think it will be that simple, though, it never is.
Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.
She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.
The Red Book is the acknowledged authority on practice and procedure